Saturday, January 30, 2016

On Suffering Well

Oh my goodness!  I do not suffer well...

I love the peaceful places, the safe.

Pretty much my whole life has been lived there.

In peaceful and safe places.

And that was just fine with me.

To live life in the place where I could know what was expected of me.

Where I could handle anything that might come my way.

I did not want my story to take place anywhere that I could not get a grip on the situation.

Did not want my story set in a place where I might find the ground I stood on was not so sturdy.


But that's not the way God works.

And to be honest, some people's stories just make me nervous.  

Maybe it is a fear of weakness... of admitting that there are some things I just can't do.

Weakness : the state or condition of lacking strength 

The stories that encouraged me most were the ones that ended in victory. 

The ones where we see the end now and it's beautiful.

They still encourage me.  The stories of weakness bother me.

The hymn writer who can never get to the place where he accepts that He is loved by the God to whom He writes his songs of praise.

Artists, writers, moms and dads.  People we know.  People who suffer real stuff.

Too often we think weakness has no place here.  
But we are all weak, even when we think we are so strong...

I have said before that we learn it as children...
Jesus loves me.  I know it because He said so.
He loved me even when I am weak.
It's ok because He is strong.
And little ones belong to Him.

A song for little ones.

When did we grow up?

I am still so very little...

I remember the first time I was aware of this discomfort with weakness.

Our family was watching baseball; not just any baseball.
Atlanta Braves baseball!

It was the Miracle Season and we were brand new major league fans.  Brand new Braves fans!

We started collecting baseball cards, and I became interested in the stories of players who shared their faith.  

Players who would be good role models for my children.

People who knew how to achieve hard things.  Strong people.

There was one baseball player whose story attracted our attention in a big way.  His name was Dave Dravecky.

He was a pitcher for the Giants.

Cancer was a part of his story, and of all places to have cancer it was found in his pitching arm. 
After surgery on his arm that removed a large part of his muscle and froze the bone, he was not expected to ever pitch again.

This could have been a sad end.

But God had other plans and there was a great celebration when he was able to come back.

I loved his testimony.

It was a story of strength.

Of victory.

Then his story took an unexpected change.  

In the middle of pitching a game, just as he threw the pitch, his arm broke.
You could hear it in the stadium.
He collapsed on the pitcher's mound in great pain.
At some point it was discovered that his cancer had returned.  

Years were spent trying to stop the disease, but he ended up having his arm amputated.

This kind of left me feeling as if I'd been sucker punched.

I didn't realize it at the time, but it revealed an embarrassment that I felt toward weakness.

It even made me ask why a God who could heal and did heal, would allow the story to end this way?

Years later, I heard his wife speak about what their story had looked like during the years after.

She spoke about suffering.
About going through hard.
About times of depression.
She said she did not "suffer well".

I thought a lot about this not suffering well.

I wondered at the time, what did I expect from someone who was suffering?

How does one suffer well?

When we hear that someone has suffered in some way, what do we expect from them?

For me, the answer to that question was easy.

If God was allowing a Christian to suffer, then it had to end well.

That is what I expected then and what I wanted.

And honestly, I still do.

But I just no longer expect to see the victory here... on this earth.

Yes I expect victory.
Just not here.
Not now.

I can wait for the happy ending.

Weakness in someone's story does not embarrass me now.

But weakness in my own story?

I keep finding myself trying to portray a stronger reality than exists.

Recently I was reminded of the fact that I can not even become a Christian in my own strength.

I had no problems admitting my weakness and need in the area of my salvation.

But this living life in His strength day to day?

"Not necessary God.  I've got this"

I thought I needed to have this...

So it meant I was content staying in my safe place.

Where there was no room for disease, or hurt, or loss ... or weakness.

And then my strength failed.  Collapsed!

It had to happen.

The belief that my goodness was what kept my life in a good place?
It showed a flawed view of God.

God was and is immeasurably good.

He has given me so much in this life that is good.

And none of it was given because I deserved it or that I had earned it.

All of it was grace.  All of it is grace. Every bit.

So when the pain doesn't end?  When the hard is harder?

He does not expect us to be the strong ones here.  Neither should we.

But He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  
(I Cor. 12:9 NIV)

All of the good that is in our lives?

It is a gift of a good and personal God who loves us more than we could ever deserve.

"Do not fear (anything), for I am with you;
 Do not be afraid, for I am your God.
 I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you;
 I will certainly take hold of you with My righteous right hand
 (a hand of justice, of power, of victory, of salvation).  (Isaiah 41:10 Amp.)

When I came to a place where I had to admit my own weakness,
He showed me that He had me.

While things may have looked pretty dismal,
there was comfort in the realization that He had it in His control.

While I felt I could not get a foothold to stand on, He held me.

The strength that I thought I needed so that He would look glorious?
Not necessary.

He looks magnificently glorious without any help from me.

But thankfully,  there are times when he uses us broken vessels as the means for His glory to shine.

It is Him.  Not us.

At the time I did not understand the story of broken and weakness that I saw displayed by the Dravecky's as they were going through the things they did...

But because they took off their mask and admitted their weakness, their story has become one that I love greatly.

The story I shunned is one I need now.

They did not hide.  They did not run away.

They trusted their God.

They used their story of broken and weak to reach out to others who were also broken.

And also weak.

People who needed to know that they were not abandoned by a loving God, but were held.

Held closer.

They are people who understand the writer of their story has a beautiful ending.

The best part is not yet revealed, but we will know it one day.

Not here, but in that place where "safe" is the reality for all of those who place their trust in our strong and trustworthy, good God.

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